Roger Marolt: Enhancing core strength by firming up our rears
I like the idea of Aspen locals hanging out in alleys.
Big offseason news this week was that the city of Aspen was headed out to gather up all the trash, junk and clutter behind downtown buildings and haul it away for free.
I saw this as a sign. It is a gift to people who live and work here. For the paltry estimated cost of $3,000 to the city to do it, it feels like we got more breathing room.
Alleys are fun. Back when it seemed like every other storefront in town was a bar or nightclub, Aspen’s alleys represented the high water mark of community vibrancy. Places were so busy that it seemed there was always a line at the rest rooms, so proprietors expanded the capacity of such by strategically placing bathroom doors close to the rear exits of their establishments. The world became our toilet. What a relief, so to speak.
Many disputes were settled in the alleys too. Drunk people were frequently out there yelling at each other and oftentimes that led to blows or at least jackets pulled over heads. A lot of drug deals went down in these dark, arteries of delivery and garbage collection. Let’s not forget, either, that lots of folks just went back there for the peace and quiet of a good old-fashioned smoke. It seemed like, no matter what you were doing back there, you would run into someone you knew and, accordingly, it was a good place to catch up. It was a time when Aspen’s gutters seemed to flow with liquid gold.
All this, of course, changed when Andre’s, The Paragon, The Slope, Chisom’s, O’Leary’s, The Tippler, Little Nell’s, Cooper Street Pier, The Paradise, Shooters, La Cocina, The Mother Lode, Pablo’s, Galena Street, and The Rockin’ Horse went extinct. Aspen got older, drink specials got more expensive, and bedtimes came earlier.
Now you can buy dope in retail stores during normal business hours, we do most of our fighting through letters to the editor, and bathrooms are as abundant as they are invitingly tiled with marble. You don’t need a more scientific explanation of gentrification than that.
There is talk about re-doing our pedestrian malls. This is all fine and good as it has become abundantly clear that the current bricks paving it are not conducive to casual strolling in stilettos or Gucci loafers. Heels snap off in the cracks and toes get scuffed, especially if your attention might be consumed window shopping. We need to smooth things out there. The mall should at least be as buffed out as the path around Maroon Lake.
But as long as we are considering a face lift for our pedestrian mall, we might as well get a little tuck for the rear ends of our retail shops too. We might be well served by first focusing our attention on ways we can attract locals back to downtown by sprucing up our alleys. Cleaning up the trash and sweeping them out is but a small eye-opener to the vision. What I would like to see are shops, cafes and bars back there.
The retail world is changing and big stores are not as attractive as they once were. It might make sense for landlords to split those spaces in two, with smaller, cheaper spaces accessible from the alleys. We could create a more European feel than Vail.
The city could push this along more quickly by redoing our downtown alleys with pavers and policing them more frequently for trash and abandoned furniture, bald tires, and rusty bikes. Yeah, I know lots of vehicles for residents and deliveries would still need access, but we can figure out time schedules for trucks and hand out special permits for residents. Every “carless village” I’ve ever visited is really just a study in managing traffic in an aesthetically unobtrusive way. Vehicles become nocturnal mechanical creatures that can be spotted in the daylight only now and then.
Encouraging small shops in the backs of our downtown buildings is the best chance of us getting non-chainstores back in Aspen. Rents for spaces in these shady parts of town would be lower. It would give local operators a chance to sell unique things that you can’t find anywhere else. We could breed some entrepreneurs! I believe we really could create an experience that would be a lot like what you find in the ancient parts of the best tourist towns all over the world.
I don’t know, it’s just an idea to try to bring back a little bit of the do-da days of Aspen, when we had local shops serving locals and tourists just the same. The only other option I can see for bringing local vibrancy back to downtown is being more lenient on citations for public urination.
Roger Marolt believes modern day back-alley deals could be sealed by written leases. email@example.com
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